Being selected as a small business for the Microsoft mentoring scheme was a step into the unknown. We had many questions such as would it help the business achieve our goals or tie us up in meetings that didn’t lead anywhere? Would our mentor have a genuine interest in our business or would we be an inconvenience and drain on their time.

So it was with some apprehension we followed the selection process and had discussions with three potential mentors and eventually asked for Lisa to be our appointed mentor. She accepted and we were quickly arranging our first meeting.

The Business Software Centre works in the general area of Software Asset Management (SAM) with a specific focus on increasing usage levels of software that is being paid for and reducing the associated costs of unused software. “Pay for the software you use and use the software you are paying for” is our motto. It just so happens that this is also a key mantra for Microsoft in their efforts to encourage customers to move to their cloud services. So at least we had alignment in our goals.

From the first meeting it became apparent that Microsoft has most of their staff focussed on their key goal of digital transition to cloud computing and within this there are some key programmes which are aimed at driving the change for their customers. The other key element is that this is primarily done through partners so much of the organization is educating and persuading channels and other partners to implement and cooperate on these key programmes. So it became clear that if our business was to benefit from Microsoft help we had to align our propositions and work in partnership with Microsoft channels.

Our technology discovers what software is installed and if it is used and then optimizes the licensing. We adapted our proposition to show what software can be easily transferred to the cloud and what isn’t worth moving either because it is not used or is a duplicate of other software. Once the transition has taken place we can also track the usage for cloud services subscriptions and optimize the costs and show how usage levels can be increased. We repackaged our products and services  along the lines of a cloud service with monthly billing and alignment to relevant Microsoft services.

Marketing and selling the services meant we had to work with Microsoft channels and our relationship with a major Microsoft distributor, quickly developed as we launched our services through their cloud services team. As a partner the distributor is dynamic and enthusiastic and has excellent contacts with major Microsoft resellers. This means we have constant communication and actively help their sales team so that we can be relied on to move the selling cycles forward quickly and easily. Partnering means exactly that – we rely on each other to reach common goals, not just selling our own services but adding value so that additional Microsoft cloud services are also sold and utilised.

The input of Lisa our mentor has been invaluable in telling us how to align ourselves with Microsoft and make additional contacts in both Microsoft and their channel partners. We had to have an open mind and be prepared to change what we were doing so that our products and services made added value when combined with Microsoft services. This means providing some level of differentiation. Our goal is clear, if an organization buys Microsoft services we show what proportion of those services are actually being used and how the usage levels can be increased e.g. from 60% to 95%. If we can achieve this we help the user organization become more efficient and save costs whilst also helping increase usage levels for Microsoft services. In effect it is a win/win outcome for all concerned.

The answer to the question “is the mentoring programme worthwhile?” depends on how open you are as a small business to align yourself with Microsoft activities and are you flexible enough to change what you are doing. You need an open mind and a good relationship with you mentor. We still have a long way to go in fully realising the benefits but so far the cooperation and help provided by our Microsoft mentor has help greatly in opening new opportunities.

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